“I hope it is not too personal a question,” the man in the far-right square asks, “but can you tell me how it is for you now with Bernie not here?”

I am on Zoom with a group in another country, talking about The Book of Householder Koans. Lots of questions about Zen, practice, and koans, and then this.

“I am happy,” I tell him. “Don’t tell anybody, but I am actually happy.”

In fact, minutes before the Zoom meeting began, I had written those words down. It was pouring outside, a second day of rain, skies miserable and gray, dogs miserable and gray. And I picked up a pen and wrote in my notebook: “And yet, I’m happy.”

“You’re happy?” snaps Aussie from the futon behind me. “You’re already happy? You couldn’t wait a little, prolong your grief for another couple of years? You couldn’t delay being happy? You have to be happy right now?”

“I know, Auss,” I tell her. “Monday will mark a year and a half since Bernie died, and I don’t know how I’ll feel then. But today I’m happy.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself! You’re supposed to be under the covers prostrate with grief, not talk to anybody for a couple of years, shut the curtains, dim the lights, and sink into depression.”

“Bernie didn’t want that, Aussie. Bernie wanted me to live. He always worried that taking care of him was too much for me.”

“And after you come out of the depression make sure you wear only black, try to always slump when you walk out, and don’t talk on the phone. AND DON’T PAINT YOUR FINGERNAILS!”

“I love painting my fingernails, and my toenails too for that matter, Aussie.”

“You’re supposed to be laden with grief, you’re supposed not to think of anything or anyone other than Bernie. And me, of course.”

“I do think of him, Aussie, especially first thing in the morning. There’s something about waking up in the gray dawn hours that remind me he’s not there.”

“And that’s how you’re supposed to be all day!”

“But I’m not, Aussie. Once I sit and then have coffee and feed Harry and you—”

“Feeding us is always a cheerful act—”

“And get back to work, I feel lighter and more engaged. I get back to life.”

“You’re not supposed to get back so soon, you’re supposed to be dead a little longer. Don’t forget, I knew the Man. Not too long, less than two months, but enough to do some serious studies with him in bed—”

“In bed, Aussie?”

“That’s where the most serious studies happen, every good Zen teacher knows that. Let me tell you, that was some guy you had. Harry will be a lost case forever because he didn’t meet him. But you were his wife! You should be eternally devastated!”

“I feel bad sometimes—”

“Feeling bad is nothing. You should be ravaged with grief, torn apart, your body and life ruined forever. That’s how good widows behave.”

“I’m not a good widow,  Auss.”

“I’m ashamed of you. Ashamed for this family, for this house.”

“Aussie, how would you feel if I met another man?”

“Another man? OMG, maybe a couple of babies, too? Or worse, more dogs?”

“No, Aussie, just another man. I don’t expect another Bernie, don’t even want another Bernie. Someone to talk to, have fun with.”

“You talk to me, don’t you? Is that much fun? Besides, who’d want you? You’re OLD!”

“I’m only 70, Aussie.”

“Should I tell you all the people who died before they were 70? Let’s see, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens—”

“Aussie, there’s bound to be someone interesting out there who’d like to meet me.”

“If they’re heading towards 90, sure. Otherwise, forget it. Everybody knows men want younger women. Besides, how are you going to meet anybody living like this in the middle of the woods?”

“Good point, Auss. Maybe online. Everything’s online nowadays, can’t meet somebody even if you meet someone, know what I mean?”

“The only reason anyone would want to be with you is that then they get to be with me.”

“What are you saying, Aussie?”

“If you’re posting photos anywhere, make sure it’s a photo of me. One look at me and they fall in love. Of course, what happens once they come in the door and see you instead—well, that’s not my problem.”

“You know, Aussie, I was happy before we started this conversation and you took me right down.”

“Which is where you should be, down and out, finished with life, and certainly finished with love and romance. As Bernie used to say: fuggedaboudit.”

“No way, Auss.”

“So, send my photo. What a response you’ll get!”

P.S. Roshi Egyoku Nakao and I will start a weekly discussion of householder koans starting this coming Monday, May 4, at 12:00 pm Eastern US time, as part of the Zen Peacemakers’ Zoom offerings.